The Pro-Life Book that Turned Me Pro-Choice

Figuring out feminism within a conservative family

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

When I turned 15 my older cousin handed me a book titled The Atonement Child. We were sprawled on the beach with all the aunties, enjoying girl talk and the late summer sun. My cousin raved about the novel’s breathtaking plotline.

“Every woman needs to read this!” She exclaimed.

I couldn’t wait to dive into the new world of a beloved novel. I was 5+ years younger than my female cousins and looked up to them with teenage pride and dedication. They had boyfriends. They were confident enough to scream and shout while playing canasta with the grownups. They had boobs. They were everything I wanted to be.

I grew up in a moderate family within a conservative family. My extended relatives were devout Catholics, with one “wild” Episcopal Christian. My family went to a Lutheran church… but only on Christmas and Easter. We never talked about things like feminism or women’s rights or abortions. I knew our family wasn’t liberal… but I didn’t actually know what that meant. I was sheltered. I was told I could form my own opinions… but my sources were also particularly molded and crafted for me.

This book opens with the idyllic life of a young, wealthy, good Christian girl who goes off to a good Christian college. She meets a perfect Christian boyfriend and his perfect Christian best friend. But, one night as the main character is walking home, she is brutally raped by a stranger. After, her clothes torn and blood-stained, she finds her way to the hospital. She can’t quite comprehend what has happened or what it means for her future. She doesn’t understand the pill in the outstretched hand of a nurse.

She’s in shock. She’s in pain. She feels conflicted and scared and confused.

She doesn’t take the pill.

She doesn’t think her family and her boyfriend would want her to. Later, when her perfect boyfriend learns that she is a survivor of rape, he breaks up with her. He can’t bear the thought of touching someone who has been “ruined.” He can’t get over the fact that she is no longer a sweet innocent virgin in his eyes, nor the eyes of the Lord.

She finds out she’s pregnant.

She’s afraid to tell her family. She feels so alone. She’s consistently harassed by the best friend, a fervent pro-life missionary. He steps in as a hero to save the semen of the rapist which dwells within her uterus. They’ll get married so that no one will ever know the damage behind the scenes and he’ll help raise the child. No one will ever know her “little” secret.

The definition of atonement is “reparation for a wrong.” At the close of the book the reader is left wondering, who was wrong? Was it the girl for “getting herself” into the situation? The boyfriend who leaves his hurting partner for his own perverted affiliations with virginity? Or, the monster who assaulted her?

I couldn’t stop thinking about her. What was she like five years later? Did their relationship last forever… or did he forget about her as soon as the fetus came to term (as many Pro-Life advocates do)? Did she get counseling to deal with the trauma she had endured? Did anyone ever actually listen to her?

That book shamed her for the rape.

That book said God cares more about punishing your broken hymen and uterus than He/She does about punishing the monsters who break them.

That book told readers that your cherished partner won’t want to touch you when they find out that you were sexually assaulted.

That book declared that rape is a woman’s cross to bear.

That book was a shining beacon of pro-life propaganda around my family and the Christian community.

That book ruined the life of that young woman and it ruined me too.

Avoiding the subject isn’t going to prevent abortions.

Sex shaming women and girls isn’t going to prevent abortions.

Your religion isn’t going to prevent abortions.

Eliminating the right to an abortion isn’t going to prevent abortions — but it will prevent safe ones.

According to the World Health Organization, Women with unintended pregnancies rely on abortion even in settings where abortion is restricted. Generally speaking, abortion rates are similar in countries where abortion is broadly legal and in those where it is restricted (40 per 1 000 women and 36 per 1 000 women, respectively)” (WHO). Research proves that whether abortions are legal or not, many families will still find access to them.

The best way to prevent abortions is not to take away access to them, but to educate people. Educate the youth about sexuality. About consent. About intercourse. About their options. Answer their questions (because even if it’s difficult to admit it to yourself… they have so many questions). Make them feel as comfortable asking about sex as they do asking why the world is round.

Roe v. Wade is not a topic to be tossed back and forth like a shuttlecock between Democrats and Republicans. It’s women’s existence. It’s women’s safety. It’s what comes after the umbilical cord is cut and real life starts.

The Guttmacher Institute, which provides credible research on reproductive health policy, found that, “In 2019, 58% of U.S. women of reproductive age (nearly 40 million women) lived in states that were considered hostile to abortion rights. In contrast, 24 million women of reproductive age (35% of the total) lived in states that were supportive of abortion rights” (Guttmacher Institute). 40 million women living in places that are “hostile” towards reproductive rights is too many women. It is shameful and it is dangerous.

No one wants to have an abortion. Pro-Choice advocates aren’t cheering for women to put themselves in this situation. Alternatively, they acknowledge the statistics and the reality of the female experience. Accidents happen. Situations change. Women are attacked. Women are blamed.

Pro-Choice does not mean Anti-Life… it means giving a woman the authority to her own body. An authority so easily ripped away without a second thought. It means educating people about every single option they have. It means fair counseling and unbiased support during terrifying times. The girl in The Atonement Child deserved the opportunity to choose for herself and so does every other woman.

References:
Guttmacher Institute. “Fact Sheet.” 2019 Sept. Online. https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-united-states
World Health Organization. “Preventing unsafe abortion.” 2020 Sept 25. Online. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/preventing-unsafe-abortion

Ran away to Spain and disguised it as following my dreams. https://amyjnelson90.wixsite.com/jolene

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